Jen Kelso: Why I’m here

When I think about what, for the most part, has shaped my thoughts about my future, what’s given me meaning and fulfillment, it isn’t classes. It’s experience.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hey! I’m Jen, and I’m lucky enough to get to hang around and learn from the Experience Institute during this inaugural summer.

I’m twenty years old, hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana, and now loving being a Chicago resident. I also love reading, exploring new places, Arrested Development, anything relating to ecology or environmental sustainability, drinking tea, being outdoors, and, of course, learning.

I often say that I can almost never do things right the first time I try. I never feel confident in my knowledge of something without experiencing it fully at least once—and a lot of times, this means messing it up. For example, I’m notorious for getting lost the first time I go someplace new. It doesn’t matter how many times I go over the directions or study the map— I’m probably going to end up getting turned around and taking an accidental detour.

But once I’ve found the place, I rarely will get lost going there a second time. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s learning from my mistakes. Whether it’s accidentally killing a tray of plants for a research project by drowning them with too much water or spraying an entire lab (and myself) with a gushing fountain of biodiesel fuel, when I make mistakes, I learn from them. To sum up: I learn best by doing. For me, it’s crucial to have space to mess up once, or maybe even twice. And it’s hard to mess up when you’re reading a book, doing problems, writing papers—staying safe. To mess up, you have to be out doing something. Enter the Experience Institute—and my interest in it.

I would never say that I’m not learning from my college courses. I’ve had many classes that I’ve truly enjoyed (and some that I’ve hated…I’m looking at you, calculus-based physics) and that have challenged me, that have opened my eyes to new possibilities. But when I think about what, for the most part, has shaped my thoughts about my future, what’s given me meaning and fulfillment, it isn’t classes. It’s experience. It’s trips I’ve taken, places I’ve worked, people I’ve met, conferences I’ve attended, projects I’ve completed. It’s the things that have scared me, brought me out of my shell, made me fall in love, broken my heart, frustrated me, given me tangible skills, made me laugh, gotten me out of bed in the morning, seized my imagination, and yes, the things I messed up—in short, what’s introduced me to myself.

That’s what I think the Experience Institute will do for its students. And that is why I am here.

By Jen Kelso

Jen Kelso is earning bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies, while simultaneously exercising her creative side. She loves a great story, environmental sustainability innovations, spending time in bookstores, the smell and feel of good earthy dirt, writing, exploring new places, learning about ecology, staying up all night, and any way that she can connect these interests. Though she is still in the process of figuring out how she’s going to combine all of this to make the world a better place, she has a feeling she’s getting closer to the answer.

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